This article is from one of EF’s Global Leadership Summit interns, Brittany Focht, following her experience at our last Summit this past March in Lima, Peru. The Summit Internship Program gives high school students a chance to deepen their experience at EF Summits by gaining valuable real-life skills through public speaking, journalism, social media and photography.
When I received an email from EF Tours in November of 2015 saying that I was signed up for the March 2017 Tour, Peru’s Highlands and the Sacred Valley, I was ecstatic. I had never even thought about visiting another country before. Little did I know that by the end of this experience, I would walk away with an entirely new view of the world around me.
I didn’t start researching what I would be seeing and learning until a few months before I left, so I don’t feel that I was taking the opportunity completely seriously. This all changed the moment I stepped off the plane in Lima, Peru. Just seeing the streets at 2 AM on our bus ride to our hotel was life changing and I could immediately see how daily life differed in Peru.
The next day was the start of the Leadership Summit. In the course of these two days, I learned more than I ever expected to. Through exploring the topic of “Global Citizenship in a Changing World”, I learned both what it means to be a Global Citizen as well as how to work in a group towards a common goal. This included approaching problems from new angles using strategies such as the Design Thinking process. It taught me first-hand that failure is often a necessity when discovering a sustainable solution.
These lessons were further emphasized during three-time Olympian and EF Ambassador DeeDee Trotter’s Keynote address during the Summit. DeeDee talked about her personal experience in overcoming failure and finding success. She showed everyone in attendance that although failure is often inevitable, it can and will be overcome. “The people who say you can’t achieve your dreams only tell you that because they can’t achieve their own,” said Trotter. “It’s our job to prove them wrong.” I now think about that every single day, as I work to become a professional dancer.
My transformational experiences didn’t end following the Summit. After the conference, I traveled to Cusco and the Sacred Valley with my group. Here, I quickly noticed a rich history and deep sense of culture. I found myself comparing and contrasting the daily life of the locals to my own back home. While in Cusco, we visited a local school in an impoverished area through the Peru’s Challenge organization. The organization is dedicated to eradicating poverty by developing sustainable schools and communities in impoverished mountain villages surrounding Cusco. And despite the community having little to no money, and locals depending on the help of others, they still seemed to be some of the happiest people I’ve ever met. They were genuinely happy to have life, family, and visitors. This made me reflect on how I personally handled the days I considered to be “bad days”.
When we met locals, I was nervous about being able to talk with them. I had taken 3 years of Honors Spanish, but I was nowhere near fluent. Regardless, they made our group feel so welcome. Children came running out of nowhere just hoping to say hello, learn your name, and play on the playground. To break the ice, we were given candy from our Tour Guides to share with the kids. One little girl—who couldn’t have been older than six or seven—held out the piece of candy and asked me how to open it. It was at that moment that it hit me: these children had likely only seen candy a few times in their lives. Of course, they hadn’t the slightest idea of how to open it. This seemingly small interaction really gave me perspective on the world. I felt as if my eyes were opening for the first time and I was seeing a new world and a new way of existing. A new way of learning how to find happiness in any situation. This was one of the biggest lessons I wanted to bring home with me.
To me, this experience wasn’t just a trip. It was an opportunity that allowed me to discover a new love for learning. Throughout, I recognized that I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to learn every single day, and from now on intend to make the most of it. I now have the desire to learn new languages – not just to say I can, but so that I can communicate with others. I don’t want to let a language barrier get in the way of being able to hear all of the amazing experiences and stories that so many people have to offer. I want to learn about cultures and beliefs. I want to learn about what keeps different people going and what their everyday life is like. I want to learn about how different people can be from one another. Most of all, I want to bring all of this back and show it to anyone who wants to learn.
Dr. Derrick Gay, another keynote speaker at the Summit, spoke about blind spots during his fantastic presentation. I now know that leading up to this trip, I had infinite blind spots that I’ve only now begun to uncover. I am convinced that through this experience I have become a better person. I can say without hesitation that within just 9 days, I watched students I have spent my entire life with also grow into more aware and considerate human beings. I wouldn’t have traded this trip for anything.